Recent cases highlight the danger of forced repatriation that Uyghur refugees face in Thailand and Pakistan, casting a disturbing shadow over Muslim states’ connivance with the CCP crimes.
by Marco Respinti
As Voice of America reported in late February 2022, Abdulaziz Abdullah, a 49-years old Uyghur refugee, died at the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok, Thailand, allegedly due to police neglect. He had left Xinjiang, which its non-Han inhabitants call East Turkestan, to escape the persecution that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) inflicts to its people. His fate casts a disturbing shadow on the more than fifty other Uyghur refugees whom, reportedly, Thai authorities hold in similar facilities since 2014. Abdullah is in fact the fourth Uyghur to die in a Thai detention center.
The possibility of dying in such detention centers is of course a terrible concern, but for Uyghur refugees in Thailand even life can be a nightmare. Over the years, Thailand repatriated in fact over one hundred Uyghur men to China, where they usually face harassment, torture, and deportation. The chance of being killed is not so remote either.
This terrible threat stands on a dark background. For, as the US think tank Council on Foreign Relation put it in a recent report on Beijing’s steadily increasing influence on Bangkok, Thailand is a country “where the general public and many elites have historically had relatively warm views of China.”
This of course encourages the Chinese regime to multiply efforts to extend its reach over Thai media and even the Thai government. Such efforts include signing deals that enable news contents produced by the Chinese regime press agency Xinhua to be replicated in Thai outlets, the careful cultivation of the local business community by the CCP long arms, and the exploitation of the important possibilities for Chinese infiltration offered by the Confucius Institutes active in Thailand.
These institutions are well-known “foreign missions” through which Beijing enlarge its influence in the world via the academia, but the academia has largely documented the massive malicious use that the CCP makes of them. Confucius Institutes in Thailand are in fact “extensively welcome,” revealing China’s strategic engagement and hegemonic project in the country, while they serve as a display of Beijing’s soft power that Bangkok seems quite willing to embrace.
Being returned to the persecutors from whom they fled is a high risk that Uyghurs do not face in Thailand only. In Pakistan, for example, the situation is similar. Reportedly, some 3,000 Uyghurs live in that Central-Asian country. Recent incidents happened when, as Radio Free Asia denounced, Pakistani policemen approached Uyghurs refugees threatening to deport them, if they did not renew their UNHCR-issued identity cards.
However, UNHCR offices had stopped renewing them. The reasons behind this seemingly cruel behavior of the UNHCR are still unclear: those documents are in fact the only protection these refugees enjoy. The influence that China exerts over Pakistan from several years, on the other hand, may well explain the conduct of the local police.
The cases of threatened Uyghur refugees in Thailand and Pakistan highlight three main points.
First, they openly confirm the strong influence through which the Chinese regime is capable to condition foreign media, institutions, and governments—but sadly this is nothing new.
Second, they demonstrate the ability of Beijing to harass Uyghurs (and others it persecutes) even beyond the Chinese borders. This is also not new. “Bitter Winter” denounced it publicly and even produced a documentary in 2019.
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), an NGO based in Washington, D.C., proved several times how people escaping from Xinjiang/East Turkestan are harassed abroad, even in liberal democracies and in such a country as the United States of America. This CCP operation amounts in fact to a massive transnational repression, which counts on what are obviously high-ranking complicities.
The third and last point is the continuous silence on and connivance with the CCP’s Uyghur persecution by too many Muslim countries, countries where the majority of citizens are Muslims, inevitably influencing the international Muslim institutions, or other governments that officially label themselves as Muslim.
The power and money of the Chinese atheistic regime over countries shaped by a religious faith, in this case Islam, which for many reasons are major international powers, is bewildering. It condemns innocent Muslims to injustice, harassment, torture, and even death despite the rhetoric on Muslim fraternity. UHRP has documented this tragedy within the tragedy in a specific report.
The case of Pakistan, a regional twin accomplice of the CCP along with Afghanistan, is one of the most astonishing. First, Pakistan condemns those it regards as blasphemers against Islam to heavy punishments, which may even include the death penalty. Within its own boundaries, it allows and support the persecution of Muslims it consider heretics, such as the Ahmadijyya Jam’at Community. At the same time, it objectively helps atheistic China to carry on its cultural genocide against the Uyghurs, who are persecuted for their Muslim faith, while favoring Pakistani Muslim terrorist groups whose bloody violence in India is a blatant indictment of Islamic faith itself.
When, years ago, I first approached the Uyghurs crisis and discovered this painful side of the question, I admired those Muslim Uyghurs who dared to denounce the betrayal performed by other Muslims as courageous exceptions. Over the years, I grew in my knowledge of the Uyghur issue, came to learn several Uyghur refugees from different walks of life, from intellectuals to activists, students to artists, desperate fathers to raped mothers, and reformulated my judgment.
I still consider as courageous those Muslim Uyghurs who stand for their people’s religious liberty and cultural identity in face of so many connivant Muslims, but I realize they are not exceptions. Their denunciation of this partnership in crime is in fact the single most discussed and repeated topic in Uyghur public discourse.